It’s half a century since the first integrated circuit was demonstrated by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments
If it wasn’t for the invention of the integrated circuit, then computers today would probably be housed in huge mahogany cabinets with a baffling array of polished, brass valves, or at least be stuffed into huge boxes containing hand-soldered transistors. We owe a lot of thanks to the integrated circuit, or microchip, which is today celebrating its 50th birthday.
The first microchip (pictured) was first demonstrated by Jack Kilby from Texas Instruments on 12 September 1958. It might not be much to look at, but then Texas Instruments admits that Kilby often remarked that if he’d known he’d be showing the first working integrated circuit for the next 40-plus years, he would’ve ‘prettied it up a little.’ The chip worked, though, producing a sine wave on an oscilloscope screen at the demo.
The integrated circuit itself is the germanium strip that you can see in the middle of the glass slide, and it measured 7/16in by 1/16in. With protruding wires, and just containing a single transistor, some resistors and a capacitor, it’s a primitive chip by today’s standards. However, it opened the gate for mass production of larger-scale chips that could contain more and more transistors without the need for complicated hand-soldering jobs.
This was a major factor when it came to using lots of interconnected transistors, and in 1958 Texas Instruments was researching a new idea called the ‘micromodule,’ in which the components of a circuit all had the same size and shape, but still didn’t address the problems concerning high numbers of transistors.
In July 1958, Kilby took it upon himself to find the answer to small-scale modules with large numbers of transistors. As a new recruit at Texus Instruments he wasn’t able to take a two-week leave while his other colleagues were off sunning themselves. Instead, he confined himself to his lab alone where he came up with the idea of fabricating all of a circuit’s components with a single block of the same material. Two months later, the first integrated circuit was demonstrated, and technology has never looked back.
Kilby also kept very detailed notes on all of his work, and you can see the page about the first demonstration of the integrated circuit in the picture below, which is dated 12 September 1958. He later went on to develop the first handheld electronic calculator at Texas Instruments in 1967, and racked up a prestigious et of awards, including the Nobel Prize in physics, the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology.
To mark the occasion, Texas Instruments has recreated the original lab where Kilby worked on the first integrated circuit at its HQ, which it hopes ‘will inspire future inventors and serve as a visual reminder of the power of science and technology combined with creativity.’ The company has also contributed to a fund to put up a statue of Kilby in his hometown of Great Bend, Kansas.